Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ highly-anticipated super-villain blockbuster Suicide Squad finally hits theaters this weekend — but ugly early reviews could threaten the film’s long-term box office prospects, just as Hollywood desperately needs a boost after a brutal, flop-filled summer.
Suicide Squad has all the hallmarks of what should be a monster summer movie: Will Smith as Deadshot, Jared Leto as the Joker and Margot Robbie as Joker’s deranged girlfriend, Harley Quinn; rich and relatively well-known source material based on a beloved franchise; a creepy, art-deco cinematic styling teased in the film’s trailers; and the steady direction of David Ayer, whose films End of Watch and Fury scored big with critics.
But early reviews have been punishing for the film, which reportedly cost $175 million to produce, without factoring in marketing costs.
The Hollywood Reporter called the movie “no fun,” while the Chicago Tribune deemed it a “mega-stuffed superhero mess.” IndieWire’s David Ehrlich was even more relentless, calling the film a “dank sewer of messy action beats and misplaced machismo.”
Ehrlich was particularly disappointed by the film’s depiction of the Joker: “Like Tony Montana if Jim Carrey had starred in Scarface, Leto is part gangster and part clown, but he’s not really part of this movie. Ayer never finds anything for the character to do, and so Leto’s role is reduced to a glorified cameo, a prelude to a more significant performance in a future installment.”
The weight of these early bad reviews has saddled the film with a 33 percent rating (and falling) on ratings-aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, a disastrous grade when compared with the critical praise lavished on the films it would seemingly most like to emulate, both in reception and at the box office; films like the irreverent and darkly comic Deadpool, which grossed more than $780 million in total box office earlier this year.
Bad reviews likely won’t shave much off of Suicide Squad‘s opening weekend; it’s currently projected to take in around $140 million in its first three-day frame, which would comfortably break the record for the biggest August opening ever, and the third-biggest this year behind only Captain America: Civil War ($179 million) and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice ($166 million).
The film is likely going to turn a profit for Warner Bros. when all is said and done and international box office is taken into account. However, in a summer that has seen big-budget tentpoles flop one after the other (Independence Day 2, Allegiant, Ghostbusters, The BFG, Tarzan, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows), Hollywood is hoping for much more from Suicide Squad: that it can become the kind of monster summer movie that puts butts back in seats in time to save the season.
Warner Bros. has been down this road before; March’s Batman v. Superman blasted off to a huge opening weekend at the box office and then proceeded to fall off a cliff over subsequent frames, ultimately pulling in $330 million at home on its way to an $872 million worldwide take (the film cost around $250 million, not including marketing costs). In a strange way, that number was probably disappointing for Warners, which undoubtedly had hoped the film would cross the billion-dollar mark abroad.
With early negative reviews piling up, Warners could be looking at a similar situation with Suicide Squad. Bad word-of-mouth can tank a movie very quickly in an era of instant reviews shared with friends online. Just look at this year’s Ghostbusters reboot.
Heck, Will Smith commented on the phenomenon just a few months ago in Cannes, when he said that in the 80s, those trying to decide whether to see a movie simply did not know whether it was bad or not until the Wednesday following a weekend opening.
“But today, it’s 10 minutes into the movie before people are saying, ‘It’s sh*t, go see Vin Diesel,'” the actor said in June.
Suicide Squad does have a couple of important factors going for it; its PG-13 rating, which will pull in younger viewers who are home from summer camp and waiting for school to start; the absence of other action movies to compete with over the next few weeks; and the fact that it’s the last true blockbuster this summer, which could entice less frequent moviegoers to head out to theaters one last time before the season ends.
The film could also still benefit from a decent CinemaScore, which measures audience, rather than critical, approval.
Audience retention will be key to the film’s success; a 70 percent drop-off in business in its second weekend (like Batman v. Superman) would likely doom the film.
Early reviews may have already dampened fans’ enthusiasm for it. And all of Hollywood is waiting with bated breath to see what happens.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum